Climate Change Collective: How green spaces help our planet

It’s clear than our planet is warming and we’re beginning to experience the effects of it. As I write this, I’m looking out the window at smoke from wildfires that have started months earlier than expected due to changes in weather patterns. In this time of change, how we manage our green spaces can help with resilience to climate change, as well as have an ongoing impact on the forces that are causing the changes in our environment. This post is a part of our Climate Change Collective series, through which a group of environmentally minded bloggers are trying to keep climate change at the top of people’s minds. In this series, one blogger writes a topical post and the Climate Change Collective participants write a response to their post, sharing thoughts or more information on the topic. Learn more about our Climate Change Collective at the end of this post and find our first in the series here: Climate Change Collective–What You Can Do. Two personal experiences with climate change In 2021 areas of southwestern BC experienced catastrophic flooding due to several “atmospheric rivers”. This weather phenomenon, involving high levels of precipitation in a short period of time, is not unsual here but the number of storms and their duration was more than usual due, in part, to climate change. The volume of water in this multi-day weather event was more than our infrastructure could handle. What was a former lake that had been drained for farmland began to refill drowning homes and farmland, communities were washed away, and the roads and bridges that connect the province disappeared. Many areas flooded at that time, including my neighborhood. On the last day of the rainstorms, a huge deluge of rain swamped the overflow system in our local park and a wave of water flowed into our yard. Our backyard flooded in moments and the water was within millimetres of our basement entrace. We grabbed buckets and bailed and, as the rain slowed, managed to stabilize the amount of water and keep it from flooding our home. Along with the changes in weather patterns and flooding, in recent years we’ve also been experiencing more and hotter days than I ever remember in the place I’ve lived my whole life. The data agrees that we are indeed seeing changes in our usual patterns. Because of these shifts from historical temperature norms, many people in southwestern BC are not yet set up to manage extreme heat. This is why, when there was a period of extreme heat in our area in 2021, the temperature in many people’s homes reached dangerous levels and hundreds of lives were lost. Though the underlying cause of these events can be at least partially linked to climate change, strategic management of our green spaces on an individual level as well as larger scales can work against climate change, as well as help to mitigate escalating impacts of it. Green spaces in our cities Impact of limited green spaces How our cities are laid out and how much green space is incorporated into them matters. In fact, warming trends can be amplified due to an effect referred to as “urban heat islands” which occur because: I read through several sources when trying to understand this phenomenon and it has been found that cities can easily be 5 degrees or more celsius warmer than surrounding rural areas – which is significant. Limiting green spaces can also amplify the impact of climate change-related flooding. In my personal example the timing coincided with a big change in our neighborhood: a developer had been given permission by the city to change a 2.5 acre parcel in our neighborhood from grass-covered farmland to 13 large homes which effectively swapped very absorbent surfaces for impermeable ones. It seems likely to me that the reduced absorption of rainwater must necessarily have contributed to our local systems being overwhelmed. This elimination of green space and mature trees that happened in my neighborhood, and happens everywhere as cities expand, also contribute to a decline in ability to absorb carbon, which further exacerbates climate change. How cities can reduce climate change impacts and increase resilience Why don’t cities incorporate more green spaces? In my opinion it seems there are several reasons why cities do not allow for more green spaces. Much thought would have gone into how much green space to retain in past years, however as the climate changes, these assumptions will likely need to be re-evaluated. However many factors likely make this difficult. Certainly in Southwestern BC there is a housing shortage as more and more people move here, and governments are struggling to keep up with housing demand. As such there is an incentive to build as many residences as possible on the land available. I also believe there is also a strong profit motivation from developer through to city as everyone in the value chain makes more money the larger the structure per square foot of land. Property owner income increases with more square footage, developers make more on the sale of a larger structures, and cities earn more property tax in perpetuity from increased development square footage. Though there is benefit to densifying, if limited natural surface is going to be maintained, then cities would likely benefit from incorporating approaches that assist with mitigating climate change and it’s effects. What can cities do? There are many ways that how we build can reduce the heat island effect. If some of these were incorporated into our buildings, we may see reduction in carbon as well as increases in resilience as our climate changes. These include: I was recently at a building that had a covered parking and the covers were solar panels! Such a fantastic idea to reduce warming and generate sustainable energy at the same time. Some of these changes would also assist with resilience to flooding as changing hard surfaces like conventional roofing for absorbant ones and expanding natural surfaces around homes would increase the ability of the environment to absorb water in a flooding event. Green spaces at home There are so many great reasons to green your home, whether you have a big yard or even just a window! I just love the fact that any food we grow ourselves is automatically local! If you grow your own herbs and lettuce in your kitchen, or have a massive garden in the backyard the carbon footprint for these items is much less than if you purchased imported goods from the store. When you plant a garden, these spaces also capture carbon and store it – ponds are especially good at this! Additionally, when adverse weather occurs, these green spaces act as buffers, absorbing heat and excess water and decreasing the impact of climate change-related weather. Climate change is causing damage to our natural infrastructure – natural systems aren’t operating as they used to and this is having an impact on the world around us. I love to use my garden to support pollinators as their populations are declining due to human actions. A few ways to do this include: These are just a few ideas about how our use of our personal green spaces can positively impact the world around us. About the Climate Change Collective The Climate Change Collective was born out of an exchange that took place between Michelle and Jamie in the comments section of a Jamie Ad Stories blog post. Jamie and Michelle both care deeply about the impact of human activity on our planet and wanted to find a way to keep the climate change message top of mind for everyone. A tweet was sent out, bloggers responded, and we’ve all now teamed up to create the Climate Change Collective! The idea is simple. The members of the collective will take turns writing a monthly blog post sharing their concerns and unique perspective about climate change. After the post is published, the rest of the group will keep the conversation going by sharing a link to the post on their blogs along with their thoughts and ideas. If you’re a like-minded blogger and would like to join our collective, please get in touch.